NEW: For Alexander (Henry Sterling Grieves)

In these tough times, I’ve managed at least to work on my craft a bit more. Some of it, however, is of course staring out of the window, trying to tie together the character motivations and backgrounds and .

The usual writer stuff.

Out of that comes some sunshine. In this case, it’s wondering about my love interest in the book known as H–though, the name will likely change, despite how I love it–and how our main character might feel threatened by his father’s opinions. It’s what my novels always revolve around–love, separated by class. The meddlings of what society expects from one and how that can be reflected and subverted on the characters we portray.

So I wrote an extract from the father’s point of view. A human piece, a vignette to consider what life was like when our love interest was only a boy. In this current climate where the scary word Coronavirus keeps us chained to our homes and panicked at reality, I hope this little bit of fiction entertains.

Victorian Women by Walery - National Portrait Gallery

For Alexander

(Henry Sterling Grieves)


The sun was a shaft of amber across the horizon, early to rise and early to scorch the English gardens.

Lord Henry Sterling let his quillpen clatter to the tabletop, where it scattered a plethora of droplets across the page. Lord Sterling didn’t care. He’d gone beyond caring about blisters of ink that marred his work or imperfections that got onto the tenant’s lease agreement. What little messes such details were if one compared them with the great, big gaping droplet in his heart.

Yet, here he was, trying to carry on with his tenants’ leases in case they felt the urge to stop working or stand up and revolt at the loss of their homes.

Or some other pathetic excuse as if their worlds hadn’t now stopped living.

The windowpane in front of Henry shattered and he cursed. Glass danced like seeds in a breeze onto the desk, peppering it with tiny bits of pain and fragments of heartbreak.

Furthermore, the injury to the insult of a broken window was the cricket ball. It rolled across his desk, picked up a droplet of ink and tracked it across one stretch of parchment, before catching against the corner of a gilt frame.

Henry Sterling had three portrait miniatures framed on his desk; of all that the cricket ball could have knocked, naturally fate guided it into the one with the fleur de lis at its base. The ball barrelled over the frame and, as one, they slid from the table.

He barely winced at the shattering of glass. Glass, glass and more glass—as if this room itself were fragile enough to break under the news that a woman had perished.

Slowly, Henry moved from his chair. First, his neck as it guided his sight over to the broken frame on the floor. Then, his spine, moving him forward in one smooth tug as if her ghost had a string taut at his chest and she was pulling him forward, always pulling. Finally, he tilted his torso forward and lifted the parchment piece from amongst what remains of its glass case.

He stared down at the portrait. A woman and a man in the most society-appropriate of embraces. His, a look to the camera, a stern glance of the head that would be regretted every time Henry looked to the portrait. Why he had not kept his eyes fixed on his new wife as she had him, he did not know. Now he’d never have the chance to recreate the idea.

Typically, of course, the man in the photo had been unscathed by the cricket ball; the woman had not. A spindle of glass had pierced Fleur at the wrist, but at least it had not decapitated her in the most macabre of fashions. He pressed a thumb across her cheek—she’d always been pale, in life almost as much as in death. Here, however, her colouration lit her from the inside in the sense that her perfect, pristine figure was not the doll, a model but unusable–but she was a woman, one who’d known exactly how to run a household, sing a cantata, and bake a soufflé for the mere reason that she had a startling good, if unnecessary, grasp of cooking.

Interrupting his , laughter tumbled down the corridor, a frivolous show of happiness in hallways that should otherwise have been blanketed in black or—at best—grey. No other colour would pacify him.

The laughter neared, along with its rampant thundering of footsteps, and the haze in front of Henry’s vision changed from grey to red. He threw aside his chair and stormed into the corridor.


The boy froze. In slow motion, his features turned to horror, from their joyous celebration of play, of not truly realising that the cricket ball that he was running around to find had shattered a very good window of the lower manor—and a very lovely woman. Or her remnant, at least.

“Father!” he cried.

“Cricket, again?”

“No, father. Not playing, not practising—”

“Merely throwing balls near windows?” Henry asked, his voice as low as a growl.

Young Alex’s eyes flickered to the door behind him, and Henry pulled it to behind him with a bang.

“Do you not understand what you have done!”

A whimper. A heartbreak of a different kind.

By instinct alone had Henry raised his hand. But as the boy below him crumbled into another mess of tears, pity softened Henry’s heart. Alexander and Jules had lost their mother as much as Henry had lost his beloved wife.

He lowered his hand and cursed internally. As far away in his head as he was, lacking Jules’ focus or drive at least, Alex hadn’t meant to smash anything. And he still had his youth, much as Henry did not.

Alex squinted through his tears and brought a fist up to scrub away those clinging to his long lashes. He’d always been an odd-looking boy, not sharing the French slenderness Fleur had carried nor the strong shoulders Henry and Jules had inherited on the Sterling side. But he was a good lad, and that was all that mattered.

Henry rested his fist on his shoulder and winced.

“Listen well, son. Never make the mistake of choosing the wrong wife.” He waggled a finger once at Alexander and was gratified that the boy’s eyes followed it when Henry jabbed it to point at the door. “Choose one so that it hurts when you lose her. You will never have to divvy out the lands herewithin, but you will still be under the introspect eye of society. You are the son of a peer, the brother to a gentleman who will one day take my seat. Choose a wife well or disgrace the ghost of your mother.”

He hadn’t meant it harshly, and Henry hoped the boy knew, even as his round face blanched.

“Yes, Father.”


It would be, oh, nearly thirty years later before Lord Henry Sterling, Baron Carshalton, would be faced again with his own words. A comment he’d considered the throwaway words of a grieving man, so unnecessary like the practise of standing for a lady to enter the room, had taken a life of its own and walked all over him.

Miss Cattoway was not a terrible woman—certainly less vacuous and concerned with what next shade of pink bathed them in the most alluring colouration than those other girls of the same school as hers–but a woman of intellect raised eyebrows even in a kind society.

And it was Miss Cattoway, for Heavens sake. Cathleen, the little daughter of James and Thea from the house that had belonged to centuries of gatekeepers for Carshalton before the land tenant agreement. Timid Cathleen, shy Cathleen, who blushed and forgot to raise her fan when she was caught daydreaming.

The girl was a wanderer not a committer.

Henry simply couldn’t envision her keeping the household and the staffs in line. Or the paltry income her household brought to the marriage.

He placed Alexander’s letter on his desk and rested one hand against his forehead.

His youngest son had argued the case for Cathleen Cattoway well, how she’d showed the strength of her commitment and had, over the past week apparently, matured into someone who might act under any threat–and he was clearly in love with her—but words would always pale in the sight of actions, as they had those twenty-something years hence.

Lord Sterling would simply have to take the risk this once. For Alexander.


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